Those within the field of social work generally rely on a plethora of formal and informal theories to define their profession, improve their clinical practice, and understand the client world (Sibeon, 1990). The majority of these theories are centered either on understanding and modifying the psychological processes of individuals or understanding and modifying the social and structural environments that individuals inhabit.
In spite of such theoretical abundance, there is little evidence that theories representing an integrated view of both human psychological dynamics and social processes are currently in use by social work practitioners. Many social workers, policy makers, and researchers inevitably rely on an ad hoc collection of internally and externally focused models that are often incongruent with one another. Thus, social work professionals hold incomplete conceptions about the nature of client problems, needs, and strengths. This leads to similarly incomplete prescriptions for personal and social change.
Erich Fromm (1900-1980) rejected the idea of a dichotomy between theories that focus solely on either individual psychology or societal determinism, and disagreed with those who attended to one without regarding the other. Just as he criticized Freud for favouring the presence of, and conflict between, internal drives in explaining the human experience, he also criticized sociologists such as Durkheim for minimizing psychological processes in relation to sociological ones. Fromm preferred an integrated view that equally credits both psychological factors and one’s socially shared mode of living in explaining why people occupy the places they do in life.